Thousands of women march for a better future across Pakistan

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, thousands of women carried out massive rallies across major cities demanding better wages, security, and the repeal of the sedition and criminal defamation laws that are being used to silence dissent and target marginalized communities

March 10, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Aurat march Pakistan women's rights
(Photo: @AuratMarchMultn/Twitter)

Thousands of women took part in ‘Aurat Marches’ (Women’s Marches) across Pakistan’s major cities on the occasion of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, March 8. 

“Riyasat jawaab do; bhook ka hisaab do” (We want answers from the state; we want accountability over hunger) was one of the key slogans raised by the demonstrators. 

The organizers stressed at a press conference in Islamabad that they are also seeking the repeal of the sedition and criminal defamation laws that are being used to silence dissent and target marginalized communities. This was among the main objectives of the 2023 march.

Protesters said that the authorities should instead establish a “Trust and Reconciliation Commission” to hold state institutions accountable and prioritize the safety of marginalized communities.   

Several rallies were carried out across the country with demonstrators sloganeering for ttbeer healthcare and better living wages for women. 

The Aurat March also called for environmental rights, better working conditions, and attention to issues such as the “invisible exploitation of trans-communities, the reproductive labor of women, and education.” 

First organized in Karachi six years ago, the Aurat March has been deemed a watershed moment in the triggering of nationwide discussions on gender, violence, and patriarchy in Pakistan. 

However, organizers in 2021 and 2020 faced huge backlash from religious groups, who accused participants of using ‘provocative’ slogans and ‘indecent’ messaging.

Several leftist groups including the Mazdoor Kisan Party, Awami Workers’ Party, Progressive Students Collective, and Progressive Students’ Foundation supported the annual march. “We reject the rhetoric of the liberal propertied classes who wage culture wars while refusing to name capitalist patriarchy as the real source of gender oppression. The brutal conditionalities of the IMF and our own ruling class have devastated the lives of working class women across Pakistan,” the Awami Workers’ Party stated in its solidarity statement

A number of slogans raised at the march also highlighted the ongoing economic and security crises in the country, and demanded that the state say no to the International Monetary Fund’s austerity policies and anti-poor measures that only benefit global capitalists. 

As per the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum in July 2022, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 146 countries in terms of gender parity. In South Asia, it fared only better than Afghanistan in its gender gap rankings, with the smallest share of women holding senior, managerial, and legislative roles.

While raising the issues faced by women in the country—from abortion rights to challenges faced by rape survivors, child and sexual abuse survivors, honor killings, and transgender rights—the demonstrators demanded that the state invest in public services and roll back budget cuts targeting the welfare and education systems.

“We speak of socialist feminism. We speak of democracy. We speak of anti-enforced disappearances. We speak of equality and access to public spaces for women. These are the reasons why the state will always have a problem with us,” one of the organizers, Imaan Zainab, was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.